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A Trail of Barley

A Trail of Barley

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A Trail of Barley

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358 pagine
5 ore
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Pubblicato:
Dec 23, 2013
ISBN:
9781310887543
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

In the late autumn of 1768 in a beautiful but remote part of Highland Scotland, a body is found in a ditch beside a field of stubble. It appears to be the victim of a serious assault. The discovery is reported to the parish constable, who identifies the body as that of a man known locally only as the soldier, a nobody, a hard drinking itinerant worker living rough and surviving by doing odd jobs on local crofts, in return for food and small amounts of money. However, the constable has long suspected the man to be an absconding English soldier and therefore, as such this presents a significant problem. The constable reports the matter to his superior the county sheriff and in turn, the sheriff notifies the military authorities, who suspect the man to have been murdered. Sergeant Moss with his two assistants Corporal Stephen and Trooper Carlisle is sent to confirm the victim’s identity and verify the cause of death. He is instructed to find if possible any evidence he can, to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the savage killing and any indication of who the assailant could have been. When the body is examined by a local doctor, he confirms the cause of death and reports to Moss that during the examination of the man’s clothing, he has found within the pockets, a small quantity of barley. He has no real explanation for its presence, since the barley harvest is long past and thus, is unlikely to have come from the immediate vicinity of where the body was discovered. Nevertheless, he believes the find could be relevant. The presence of the barley within the victim’s clothing is something of a puzzle for Moss, but in time it proves to be an important pointer in the trail of evidence. The sergeant and his men go on to examine the place where the crime occurred, but at first they find more questions than answers. During their investigation, they stumble upon a second body; initially this seems to be unrelated to the first victim. Bit by bit the story begins to unravel, exposing talk of stolen Jacobite gold and a cruel death which had caused entrenched hatred locally and which, for the second murder, provides a possible motif of long sought retribution. But, are the two killings in some way linked? A witness is then uncovered, who gives an elated Moss some firm evidence at last, leading to much needed clarification. When Moss is finally satisfied that he has the solution to the crimes; a sudden and dramatic act takes place, which brings the mystery to a conclusion. Or, it almost does.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Dec 23, 2013
ISBN:
9781310887543
Formato:
Libro

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A Trail of Barley - Colin Small

A Trail of Barley

By Colin M Small

Copyright © 2013 Colin Macdonald Small

(Revised 2019)

Smashwords Edition

This is a work of fiction. All characters, places and events

in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain,

are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or

dead is purely coincidental.

Title

Copyright

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

THE END

Chapter 1

In a remote glen in the highlands of Scotland, at daybreak one morning in the early autumn of 1768, the rising sun brought the first rays of the dawn light above the dark mountains. The golden glow spread slowly across the stubble field to begin warming the clear chilled air until impeded by the dark shadow wall of the tall forest. Songbirds joyfully welcomed the new day from the hedgerow surrounding the small field and crows called loudly, swooping down from nests high in the pine forest, to search for the remnants of grain in the stubble. With the first furrow in the field already ploughed, others searched the freshly turned soil to find a feast. The young ploughman leaned leisurely against the handles of the stationary plough, slowly eating his breakfast of oatcakes and cheese as he watched the sunrise. He was relaxed and without care or worry, anticipating with pleasure a fine day to smooth the progress of his work in hand.

The powerful old Shire gelding, his advancing years revealed by the grey tinge in his coat and mane, stood at peace in the newly turned furrow resting a back leg on hoof tip, as his partner a young powerful mare, waited patiently by his side. The horses were pleased to enjoy a short rest at the top of the field, following a slow ambling journey from the steading to be yoked and then to make the first furrow of the southland, marking the edge of the border strip. They now patiently awaited the young ploughman’s order to continue with the familiar task. The youth rose from his resting place and stroking the nose of each of his companions, he fed them each, in turn, a few of the extra oatcakes, he had smuggled from the farm kitchen.

As he glanced across the flat stubble surface to the distant hedge and the rough track, edged by the deep forest beyond still in shadow, he mentally calculated the work to be done. His eye caught a movement on the track in the dawn light, the shapely familiar form of Mhairi the farm servant, walking from her parents’ home where she lived, in the direction of the steading. Aware of his watching eyes she raised a hand to wave a cheery greeting. He returned the wave and continued to follow her progress with amusement. He could hear her sweet voice on the soft breeze as she sang a familiar song to pass the time and help shorten the walk to her place of work.

As the youth watched, Mhairi reached a point level with the far corner of the field where she suddenly stopped, then moved slowly to the edge of the elevated track and appeared to look closely down into the ditch, before jumping back startled. After a moment the girl turned towards him and began frantically waving her arms.

He returned the salute once again but became puzzled when she began to appear even more frantic, jumping and waving both arms. When he heard her faintly on the breeze calling his name, he realised something was amiss and he began to walk urgently towards her across the field. Then realising the apparent degree of anxiety by her shouting and waving, he broke into a trot.

Reaching the edge of the field, he pushed through the hedgerow and climbed up onto the track then ran quickly along to where the girl stood, with one hand over her mouth and her other arm stretched in front of her, finger pointing down into the ditch. The cause of her agitation was immediately apparent; the body of a man lay face up, in the few inches of mud and water at the bottom of the ditch, with his arms by his sides and his legs extended like a man at rest. His long matted unruly hair and bearded face were visibly covered with dried blood, his eyes were closed as if asleep, his features appearing calm and at peace.

The boy took a moment to comfort and to calm the servant girl, he then descended cautiously through the overgrown grass and nettles into the ditch. Gripping a bunch of docken weed stems in one hand to steady his balance, he reached out reluctantly with the other to prod the man gently, only to recoil in revulsion when his touch revealed the body to be very cold and stiff. The subject was most certainly dead and clearly the victim of violence. The youth climbed out of the ditch and pulled Mhairi to him to comfort her as she shivered with the shock of her discovery.

Donny do you know him, is he dead?

He is dead for certain, there is no doubt about that. I have seen him before, he would sometimes do rough work for my father, he would just call him Dan. Otherwise, all I know is that people would mostly speak of him as the soldier. He arrived suddenly one day and he now does odd jobs or did, to earn a little money and then he spent most of it at the inn, so my father said.

"What are we to do?

Donny turned to look at the forest stretching along the track behind him deep and foreboding, dark within devoid of any benefit from the rising sun.

You are on your way to the house? Run quickly then and find my father. Tell him what we have discovered. I must remain with my horses, but I will keep watch lest someone should turn up before my father comes. This poor man is not going to go anywhere now; he is dead a good while I think. I hope at least, he added looking again over his shoulder at the darkness of the forest behind him.

Mhairi gathered up her skirts and dashed off in the direction of the farmhouse. Donald stood for a moment longer studying the corpse where it lay in the ditch and then he looked long and hard behind him into the depth of the now seemingly sinister woodland. Inwardly he made a quick decision. He jumped the ditch and scrambled through the entanglement of weeds, before clambering over the hedge to fall prostrate in the stubble. Jumping quickly to his feet unharmed he hurried across the field to his waiting horses, brushing the soil from his hands and shirt while constantly looking over his shoulder as he went.

Chapter 2

The tiny hamlet awoke to the dawn of a new day, with the golden light of the rising sun, spreading across the roofs of the few compact cottages, some thatched others still of sod. The damp morning air was filled with the aroma of the smoke from the peat fires recently aroused. It was the beginning of the new working day, each day similar to the one before as always, rarely changing except for the vagaries of the weather and the seasons.

A larger cottage stood at the end of the hamlet, solitary in its own little plot of land surrounded by a birch rail fence. The door opened and a stocky man, bearded with long grey hair tied back by a simple ribbon, emerged to look around towards the forest and the hills as he breathed in deeply the morning air. Dressed in shirt sleeves with waistcoat and britches, well-worn leather riding boots completed his appearance. He carried in his hand a wooden bucket as he crossed the little compound to a small stone-built outhouse, where he filled the bucket with grain from a stout barrel raised on stone blocks, utilised for feed storage to offer a degree of protection from vermin. Alongside this building stood another slightly larger constructed from sawn timber. He propped open the door of the larger structure before pouring some of the grain into a long slim wooden trough a few feet away, then he proceeded to scatter the remainder around his feet as he made encouraging sounds.

Took took took.

A small flock of hens crowded from the open doorway of the outhouse fluttering and flapping as the man stood aside to allow them to commence their breakfast. With the birds busy and distracted he entered the coop and began to substitute the grain in the bucket for a collection of fine newly laid eggs.

Good morning John Mackenzie.

Mackenzie leaned out of the door to see the portly figure of the crofter Angus Maclean, dismounting from his garron by the front gate.

Good morning to you also Angus, he said as he walked towards the gate. I did not detect your arriving. What brings you to my door at this early hour? Not to buy eggs I am sure, more like trouble I have no doubt.

You are indeed correct in both assumptions; I have more than enough eggs from my own hens and this is a more serious affair I come about. I want to report to you in your capacity as Parish Constable, the discovery of a dead corpse.

"A dead corpse indeed, is there any other kind of corpse?

There is no room for humour in this matter John. Donald was ploughing our piece of land to the west of the house this morning when he discovered the body of a man. Or to be exact our dairy maid found the body and sought his help in the matter. The body lies yonder in a ditch at the edge of the field.

Yes, I know the place you mean. Obviously, there is no question that he is, in fact, dead, you are sure, did you go and check this for yourself?

I did and he is most certainly dead. A very violent end by the look of. Struck on the head with a great force I would say.

Well, then we are talking about a possible murder. What have you done with the body?

The body still lies, just where it was found. I did nothing more beyond confirming that the man is dead. I could see plainly the cause of his demise.

Is Donald still there guarding the body?

Hardly guarding it, he is still working in the field and also watching to see that no one in passing might go near the body. He can direct you to the exact position where it lies when you meet him.

Did you recognise the individual; can you tell who he might be?

"Yes and no. I have seen him often before, but I know him only as a person I have come across at times when he was seeking work and simple jobs about the neighbourhood. I have given him the odd job myself from time to time, but he was not what you might call a good worker. He has not been here about very long and I cannot say I ever knew his proper name. I only ever heard him referred to as Dan the soldier, I think he survived on any small amount he could earn from the odd jobs and food he was given.

I know him I think, he gives his name as Molloy, Dan Molloy. He appeared one day from wherever and he was at first thought to be a tinker. Long hair and bearded would you say.

Indeed so, that will be him right enough, but that would describe many here about would you not think.

I will recognise him when I see him, but from your description, it must be him. If it is Molloy or Daniel Molloy, I believe it to be, I have been pressed to speak to him on a number of occasions with regard to drunkenness. Once when he was in drink a woman in the village called him a drunken tinker, she made the assumption probably because he speaks with a slight Irish brogue. He took great exception to be thought of as such and claimed to be a soldier. Being a soldier of Irish origins would not increase his popularity about here I would imagine, so he never referred to it again. Since then, however, he has just been known as the soldier around the village. I don’t know if he really was ever a soldier or not, he hardly looks fit enough. But I have long thought that if he is or was a soldier, he would be an English soldier and as such, almost certainly one who has absconded. I threatened to put him before the Minister more than once because of his drinking. He has been found lying behind a hedge often enough in the short time he has been in this parish. It has been on my mind to do something about him, for he has no obvious abode as far as I am aware. But if he is now dead and as you say through violence, and not just through drink, then this is a serious matter and no mistake. He was not a healthy man I know that, but he is not an old man either, young enough to be still a serving soldier I would imagine if he were able. I did not report him at the time for his transgressions as he promised to mend his ways and I felt he did not deserve to suffer the wrath of the Minister.

Just so, he would not have had a flogging these days for his habits, but the retribution of the church could still be near as bad for certain.

Mind what you say in that regard, the minister is held in high standing here about by most as you well know and he is not noted for a sense of humour. I believe you would not want to fall foul of him either.

You are quite correct so be it, but now I must get on my way unless you want me to assist you in any further way.

I will make ready and ride out and find Donald if you would do me the kindness of finding Doctor Marr before you return home and tell him what you have conveyed to me. Advise him also if you would, that I have gone to where the body lies.

I will indeed if you wish. I am on my way into town as it happens and it is a bit out of my way, but I have the time, so I suppose I can take a turn through Tarradale. Is there anyone else who should be told?

You would favour me greatly since you are going to town if you would take a moment also to call into the sheriff’s office and inform his clerk of the discovery. The sheriff is aware already of the man as I understand it, in so far as his presence in the area and his identity are a bit of a mystery.

I will do that certainly and no doubt hear more from you in due course. You think his name is Molloy did you say?

That is what he called himself and it is the name I used when I reported him. I will keep you informed as best I can, but I think there will not be very much in it for me. It will depend on the view the sheriff takes of the matter. However, in my opinion, the passing of this poor man, even though by an act of violence, will not arouse much concern with the powers that be. When the sheriff learns of the affair, I am sure he will consider that the man has simply come off worst in an argument with a person unknown and no doubt that will be an end of it.

Well, I will get on and do what I can, good day and good luck to you John.

Good day Angus and many thanks for your help.

As the crofter mounted his garron and rode off to continue with his errands, John Mackenzie completed the gathering of eggs and took them safely into his cottage, leaving his hens to forage at will. He then entered the byre on the end of the cottage and led his pony out, to be brushed and saddled. One of two highland ponies, he released the other into the area behind his byre to wander and graze the last of the summer grass.

His pony ready to proceed, the constable mounted and set out on the west road at a leisurely pace to seek the subject of his investigation.

What reason could be given as to why such a poor man should end his life in this violent manner? He always seemed harmless enough to most people who knew him and although certainly, he could be argumentative in drink, he had never been known to offer any real violence to anyone. Of course, he could have fallen over and been injured no doubt, but beaten to death such as it was described, was most unexpected and difficult to explain. Surely no one would think him to have anything of value on him, nothing which would tempt a robber or highwayman.

There were incidents in the past when travellers who might be likely to have things of value about them, were the victims of theft. Perhaps a crofter returning from the market having sold livestock would be worth robbing. Although not a common occurrence it has happened certainly, but not often to the extent of the victim being killed in the course of the robbery. Mackenzie was certain that a simple overdone assault could be the reasonable explanation given for the man’s demise. What else could occasion this death? The victim had simply offended some person of violence, someone who had overreacted and left him to die. This, without doubt, will also be the opinion of the sheriff.

As John Mackenzie made his way along the track turning the situation over in his mind, he passed through the land of his clan. As he rounded a bend, he observed a cart pulled by a pair of horses ambling towards him. He recognised a well-known carter who plied for hire in the parish. He could frequently be seen on the roads between Tarradale, Cononside and places to the west, transporting all manner of goods and chattels when demanded.

Mackenzie hailed the carter as he approached. Good day Hugh. Where are you coming from today?

London town, he replied.

Then after a moment to pull up the horses that were always ready to stop and rest, he continued. Killin of course as always, what do you expect? I am on the way to Tarradale.

John ignored the sarcasm. I wondered if perhaps you had seen young Donald Maclean, as you came along.

I did, I could hardly miss him. He is ploughing the field to the west of the Maclean croft. We talked for a while and he told me about the body if that is your interest? Doubtless, that will be the reason for you being abroad in this direction, on such a fine morning and before you ask, I did not trouble to see the body as it is at the far side of the field.

It was more to my interested if you had seen anyone on your travels this morning? A stranger perhaps or anyone who you felt may have gone out of their way to avoid you.

More often these days, those who I see go out of their way to avoid me, because most of them owe me money for my work. I have no doubt they think that I can live on hay with some oats like my horses.

I take it then, that you have not seen anyone that would be of interest to me.

You may indeed take it so.

The old carter gently slapped the reins together and in Gaelic, ordered the horses to walk on.

Good day to you John Mackenzie.

Good day, Hugh and go carefully.

Not in the least put off by the demeanour of the old carter, he heeled the pony to a steady walk as he turned in the saddle, first one way and then the other as his eyes scoured the landscape around him, hoping to catch sight of any other persons abroad at this time of the day.

In due course the constable turned off the main road and cut through a branch track near to the Maclean croft and then commenced to follow this track to the scene of the crime, passing the path to the croft buildings on the way. After a while, he arrived at his destination, the field that ran parallel to the dense pine forest, which concealed a deep flowing river within. The trees were separated from the field by a narrow track and the ditch in question. A glance across the field showed that the young ploughman had completed most of his ploughing and was now well into the second land or section of the area to be done. As Mackenzie watched the plough coming towards him, he halted his pony and sat waiting for Donald Maclean to come abreast. He could hear the sound of the blade carving through the soil, with the clack against an occasional stone and the laboured thud of the horse’s hooves. The quiet voice of the young ploughman gently encouraging his animals and the snorting of the horses, as they blew through their nostrils, carried more clearly as they came nearer to where Mackenzie waited.

The ploughman had seen the constable on the track and waved a hand to him as he drew near. Mackenzie dismounted and tethered his pony to a shrub where she could crop the grass at her leisure. He strode slowly to the edge of the track and took in the aroma of the freshly disturbed soil, then pushed through the hedge and advanced to meet the plough. The ploughman commanded his charges to stop as the constable reached him. The crows and gulls that alighted behind the plough on the dark clean earth still shining with moisture, settled to make short work of the worms and insects they could find. Young Donald Maclean backed the horses up a step to release the strain on the implement and to allow them to relax. The chains and attachments clinked and rattled as the large horses snorted, nodding their heads and stamping their feet to free the tension on the traces. Mackenzie laid a hand on the rump of the big gelding as he detected the familiar scent of the hard-working animal and felt the radiating heat from its body.

Mr Mackenzie, good day to you sir, you have come to see the dead man, greeted young Donald as he tied the rope reins to the shafts of the plough and held out a hand to the constable in greeting.

Good morning Donald, he greeted as he shook the young man’s hand warmly and then put an affectionate arm around his shoulder. I have indeed come to look at your find.

I will show you the body; it is over in the ditch near to where your pony stands, beside the track at the corner. He has not been moved, as my father instructed.

Good lad, Doctor Marr should meet me here soon, I hope. I will call on you then to help us lift him onto the track. I have with me some sail cloth to cover him with until we can remove him to the doctor’s carriage or to his pack pony, whichever he will use. Meanwhile, my young friend advance, take me to your find.

Leaving the horses to stand obediently at rest in the middle of the field, Donald and the older man walked together short way along the track behind the hedge, to where Mhairi had found the corpse in the early morning.

Well I never, said the constable, I must have ridden past without seeing him down in the weeds.

Gripping the younger man’s hand for support, the constable lowered himself carefully down into the ditch taking care not to slip on the muddy surface lest he should step on the body or worse, end up lying alongside it. A cursory glance was enough to confirm what he already knew, that the itinerant man was lifeless and had died from violence.

What have you there Mackenzie? Doctor Marr called out as he walked towards them along the track.

Good morning Doctor, you caught me up, he responded. I did not hear your pony coming along the track.

"Good day to you. I came straight away when I got your message. I cut through the farm and along the track and left my ponies a short distance away.

Aye well you might ask; we have a body right enough, as you can see. Are you coming down or will we haul him up?

I will stay here for the moment thank you; I can do very little for him now, down in the ditch.

Very well. Donald, you take a hold of his feet while I take his arms, we will lift him up to the track. Mind your clothes; he is muddy, bloody and wet.

Very little effort in view of the victim’s lightweight frame was required, to raise him from the ditch. With some help from the doctor, the corpse of the undernourished victim was laid out on the track. Doctor Marr knelt down at the side of the body and examined the victim’s head, turning it from side to side before reaching his professional conclusion.

Well I have no doubt as to his state, he has indeed perished a while back.

The doctor continued to examine the body, peering closely at the victim, parting the hair turning the head this way and that.

I think I detect a smell of drink from him still, which would explain a lot. Nevertheless, he has been struck a blow from a heavy instrument of some sort, without doubt, he confirmed.

You say, sir, that he has been dead a while, can you say how long since it would have happened?

No sir, not with any accuracy, it is impossible to tell.

Will you make a guess then?

I don’t make guesses in such matters; I would only say, between you and me if it helps, that the man has been dead perhaps, from between sometime last evening and early this morning, not longer. I suppose he died a short time before his body ended up here, in this position. If the body had lain for any longer time, I would expect much more effect from the ditch water on his skin than I can see. This is also indicated by the blood staining on his clothing, which seems to have dried into the material beforehand and not subsequently discoloured greatly.

What would you say the instrument of death might have been?

Once again it is impossible to say accurately at this moment, except that it would have been a heavy blunt instrument such as a club or a hammer.

Struck about the head then died in the ditch it would seem.

I did not say that he could have died anywhere. He could have been dragged to this spot from nearby or more likely transported here in some way after death.

Why do you think that to be the case?

I suggest this because of the lack of blood on the surrounding vegetation. Had he been killed at this spot in the way he was, much more blood would be apparent on the track or vegetation. The only visible blood is that which is apparent on the corpse and his clothing.

You seem very certain Doctor, there is as you say a great amount of blood on his shirt and other clothing.

I speak from past experience, John. It would be almost impossible to inflict this type of wound here without causing some blood spattering on the surrounding vegetation and I can detect none. I am sure he was killed elsewhere and brought to this place and then put into the ditch, but that is only my educated guess.

Of course, I understand. You are the expert.

I would strengthen my point further, the doctor went on, "by suggesting that even if you exclude the lack of blood about here, had he been struck and fallen while on the path, then rolled into the ditch, there would be evidence of his progress on the vegetation. Or again, even if struck down while standing in the ditch, he would more likely

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